Wednesday 29 February 2012

Timid Tigers?

It's been a little while since we promised an update on the wildcat cameras. Although the trail cameras been out for almost two weeks, we still haven't managed to capture even a glimpse of a Highland Tiger or even of any other wildlife so far.

Wildcat (Felis silvestris) image: Michael Gäbler
On the face of it this is a little disappointing as the cameras both appear to be working correctly and the bait that is used to attract in the cats, and which you might assume to be equally as effective towards other animals, remains relatively untouched. However, always looking for a positive, we can at least speculate as to what the absence of any wildlife appearing in front of the cams does tell us. We were hoping to look for cats in suitable habitats within previously unsurveyed locations so we can assume that either: 1) the locations we have the cameras at are beyond any local wildcats' current range; or 2) the mild winter has been beneficial for the wildcats' food supply and they have not needed to move to the edges of their range to seek additional sustenance; or lastly 3) any wildcats that do use the habitat near these locations just haven't been out there, or at least past our cameras in the last few weeks.

Of course, the above is all really just reasoned speculation. The only thing we know 100% for sure is that we have not recorded any pictures of any cats. However it is also important to celebrate the benefits of finding negatives - we all like to see exciting pictures of wildlife in its native habitat but in this case the absence of pictures can be just as significant, giving us information about where wildcats are not to be found and helping us decide where to relocate the camera traps to for a better chance of finding one. Put together, information about presence and absence can contribute to the larger picture of mapping out the range of the wildcat as a species, not just spotting individuals.

So our next move will be to reposition the camera traps. This time a little closer to where we know there have been sightings. If at first you don't succeed...

In the meantime, have a look at the update on the Highland Tiger blog where you can see the results of a more successful camera trapping session.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Thursday 23 February

The oystercatchers are back!
Every year at about this time, they move back up the rivers from their winter homes at the coast. They usually move at night in large crowds, so we are very aware that they are here - the last 2 early mornings have been filled with their piping calls.
This area was one of the first places that oystercatchers started to move inland for the summer, instead of staying at estuaries and coasts. Their long bills are just as useful for probing soft fields and grass as they are for estuary mud.
It's certainly cheery to see their clolours at this time of year.

Friday 17 February 2012

Waiting for Wildcats

We very recently received some camera traps from the Highland Tiger project, aimed at conserving wildcats within the Cairngorms. They hope that we can use the cameras to capture photographs of wildcats in locations that have not been studied before. They are particularly interested to see if any cats we do find are individuals that have already been found elsewhere.
Camera trap set up across a trail, poised to capture some wildcat action!
Camera traps are a very useful tool for the conservation of a species like the wildcat. They can be used to record the distinctive markings of different individuals and then to begin to establish information about the territory of the animals. They also allow for capturing natural behaviour when no one is around to disturb it.

The wildcat has been identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of the most important species currently threatened by both man-made and natural environmental pressures and has been a protected species since 1988. They are the only remaining member of the cat family native to Britain but the most serious threat to their future is from mating with domestic cats and creating fertile ‘hybrid’ offspring. These hybrid cats are damaging because they weaken the wildcat populations and make it less likely for two ‘pure’ wildcats to breed and have ‘true’ wildcat offspring.

If you think that you’ve seen a wildcat yourself or want to be sure of how to identify them, check here to make sure you know what to look for. If it is a wildcat don’t forget to report it to the project so they can get as much information as possible about these elusive animals.

We’ve put the camera traps out today and are hoping they will capture some photographs of wildcats over the weekend. We’ll let you know the results here! In the meantime, why not check out the Highland Tiger YouTube channel or visit their facebook page.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Saturday 4 February

Yesterday was one of those stunningly beautiful winter days that take your breath away. The white mountains, blue sky, deep blue lochs and white frosted trees all combined to make Highland Perthshire look like a fairy tale.
Treecreeper - look in middle of picture
Now at bottom of wall, trying again in its search for insects

Although they looks stunning, deeply frosty days like this are especially tough on birds. They expend a lot of energy, most small birds need to eat half their body weight every day, and when it's colder they need to eat more to stay warm, and the food is harder to get. Many birds get help from us at this time of year, but there are some species that you never see at the bird feeders. A treecreeper is one of them. They are insect eaters, and feed by slowly spiralling up a tree pecking insects out from nooks and crannies in the bark. Then they fly down and start again on another tree. This treecreeper was trying its luck on a wall today, and I don't suspect it was having much luck. They often supplement their diet with seeds from cones in winter if they can't find any insects.